Having A High Salary VS Work-Life Balance: M’sians Reveal Which One Matters More To Them

In an ideal world, we would all be able to earn a high salary while enjoying work-life balance. Unfortunately, many of us probably have to settle for one or the other.

But which matters more to us?

This is what we wanted to know, so we asked Malaysians aged 20 to 59 if they preferred a high salary or work-life balance by presenting 3 hypothetical scenarios to them.

Below, we detail the 3 scenarios and present the percentage of our respondents who chose each one, along with their explanations for their choice.

13% of our respondents chose Scenario #1, making up the minority. The common reasons as to why they chose this scenario was:

  • They need the money
  • To take advantage of their youth to learn and earn as much as they can

They prioritised money because they believe the salary earned can enrich their lives in other ways and neutralise the disadvantages of extreme working hours.

One respondent explained, “With the salary, you have options to outsource parts of your life, like hiring a helper to do your chores, affording a nanny to look after your children, hiring food delivery so you don’t have to cook.”

There also appears to be a belief that Malaysians should work hard, earn as much as possible, and save up while young.

A respondent in their late forties told us, “Strive for the best maximum earning while still capable and save. Enjoy at the end.”

Another respondent, this time in their early twenties with under 1 year of working experience, said, “For fresh graduates, the learning curve is steep, so why not go the extra mile and work harder and earn more simultaneously?”

A majority of our respondents (49%) chose Scenario #2. Here are the common themes we identified in their explanations:

  • It’s a decent salary to earn for reasonable working hours
  • They can get work-life balance
  • They can use their free time for self-enrichment
  • They can earn side income/start a side hustle
  • They can be healthier and happier

It appears that Scenario #2 is ideal for Malaysians who are city-dwellers because it’s not too much work, and they get a decent sum of money that lets them live comfortably.

While money isn’t as heavily prioritised when compared to respondents who chose Scenario #1, these respondents noted that it’s still important.

Some feel that Scenario #2 lets them comfortably pursue a side hustle during their free time, because the salary earned from their main job gives them the financial assurance to do so.

They also think that the balance between working and non-working hours gives them enough time to take care of their health and happiness, and to explore their own interests.

One Malaysian summed it up nicely, saying, “While I’d love to have a high salary, I’m not willing to dedicate a majority of my time to my work. I still need some time off to myself, otherwise I think I would suffer physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Surprisingly, a significant number of respondents (38%) chose Scenario #3, despite the salary earned being on the lower end. Here’s why they chose it:

  • Their current priority isn’t money, it’s time
  • They’ll experience less stress (due to less working hours), be happier, and have better health
  • They have more time for family and friends
  • Their personal work experience has changed their perspective

Malaysians who chose Scenario #3 want more time for their family and friends, and believe that the salary earned is enough for their basic expenses.

According to them, time that’s lost can never be recovered, but money can still be gained whenever. One Malaysian said, “What’s the point of earning so much money but not having the time to spend it anyway?”

They would also rather spend their free time on earning side income, instead of spending all their time on their main job.

While this seems counteractive, it can be assumed that their side hustle would be something they enjoy doing more, which allows them to justify spending free time on it.

For some respondents, they chose Scenario #3 because they’ve experienced/are currently experiencing Scenario #1 and didn’t/don’t enjoy it.

Work-Life Balance Triumphs Against Having A High Salary

Based on the results, it appears that work-life balance holds more importance than having a high salary for Malaysians.

However, money is still a necessity, and the majority found Scenario #2 nicely-balanced in terms of salary and free time.

Some felt that Scenario #1 was too extreme in terms of work, while Scenario #3 would pose financial problems, especially if they have a family to support, or want to start a family.

At this point, we had only pitted 2 factors against one another: a high salary versus work-life balance.

We also wanted to know the importance of career passion against having a high salary and work-life balance, and this is what our respondents said.

Does Career Passion Affect Choice?

1. Career Passion VS High Salary

First, we asked respondents if they would remain in a job they hated if they earned a high salary. 71% of them said ‘no’ for these reasons:

  • Doing a job that you hate will impact work performance negatively
  • Staying in a job you hate will affect your mental and emotional health, which can affect your physical health

When compared to career passion, a high salary becomes less important for most of the Malaysians we asked. If they hated their job but did it for the money, they wouldn’t be motivated or productive.

A few of them even had more cynical opinions. They said that as an employee, they’re replaceable, so there’s no point in sacrificing their time and health for a job they hate.

The remaining 29% of respondents who said ‘yes’ would only stay in a high-paying job they hate out of financial necessity.

One respondent said that they wanted to put their children’s education first, and another said that they might as well earn the highest salary possible based on their skills.

2. Career Passion VS Work-Life Balance

Next, we switched it up by asking if they would stay in a job that they hated if it offered amazing work-life balance. The results weren’t much different, with 70% saying ‘no’.

They equated career passion to job satisfaction and overall happiness, much like in the previous scenario.

30% of the respondents would stay in the job because they believe that the amount of free time they get for their friends and family will help eliminate the stress of working in a job they hate.

Career Passion Comes Out On Top

Image Credit: Mimi Thian

Our respondents initially chose work-life balance over a high salary based on the 3 scenarios, but when the topic of career passion was brought in, it ultimately became the most important factor.

It’s safe to say then that it doesn’t matter if there’s a high salary or work-life balance—career passion is still a major factor for Malaysians’ happiness.

Some respondents highlighted that being able to do a job they love would actually present them with a different form of work-life balance.

In this case, they would enjoy their working hours, so it’s less stressful and they don’t feel that they need much time away from work to balance it out. Having a high salary would simply be an added advantage.


Choosing between earning a high salary and having work-life balance is tough, but as a young Malaysian in the early stages of my career, I personally value having a higher salary more.

At the same time, I believe that having a passion for your work is important as it will affect productivity and maybe even health in the long run.

After analysing these answers, I began to wonder: to what extent has modern technology played a role in influencing our priority of work-life balance?

Technology has put us in an ‘always-on’ state, with the line between our work and personal lives becoming blurred as a result, which could lead to burnout.

Could our preference for work-life balance be a result of this development? It’s something to consider, at least, and a questionnaire for another day.

  • You can read more work-related content here.

Categories: Lifestyle, Malaysian, Jobs

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© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)